Date: 10 Shaaban 1441   Saturday 04 April 2020

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Coronavirus: Why Ghana has gone into mourning after mass funeral ban

07:01 26 March 2020 Author :  

In our series of letters from African writers, journalist and former Ghana government minister Elizabeth Ohene writes about the dramatic impact coronavirus is having on life in her country and beyond.

If anyone had any doubt about just how serious the Covid-19 outbreak is, we now have proof positive, we are in the midst of a huge crisis.

This is a crisis not measured yet by how many people have been taken ill, or are in hospital or have died.

Here in Ghana, there are some things that are sacred in our lives and nobody touches them under any circumstance: religion, handshakes and funerals.

These are subjects that are not up for discussion and many people believe they define our very existence.

For weeks, government and health officials here have been warning everybody to improve personal hygiene and avoid crowds.

Many people preferred to think that the coronavirus would not make it into sub-Saharan Africa and therefore they believed the warnings by the health experts could be ignored.

'Only enemies refuse to shake hands'

Whoever heard of a Ghanaian, indeed, an African greeting another person and not shaking hands?

To refuse or ignore to shake hands with someone means that person is an enemy. Now we can't shake hands with anybody, friend or foe.

President Nana Akufo-Addo set the tone for the new rules at the celebrations of Ghana's 63rd independence anniversary on 6 March, when he ostentatiously kept both his hands resolutely behind his back when he arrived at the ceremony to greet those seated on the dais.

And as though the prohibition on handshaking was not traumatic enough, a ban has been put on the holding of funerals. The official announcement says there can be private burials, but no mass gatherings of mourners.

I am not sure I can convey the enormity of this on the Ghanaian psyche.

There is no such thing as a private burial in our thinking and funerals are huge, dramatic and regular ceremonies.

Our lives revolve around funerals.

The catering industry relies on funerals to survive, the textile industry needs orders for funeral cloths to stay in business, the tailors and dressmakers are busy mostly because they make clothes for funerals; choral groups, events organisers, transportation and manufacturers and sellers of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks would disappear without funerals.

But there will be no more funerals.

Come to think of it, what with the hand shaking ban, it's probably just as well that a ban has been placed on funerals.

We can't have funerals and not shake hands, the entire funeral ceremony consists of shaking hands, shaking hands and shaking hands.

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